29 November, 2012

I Can't Believe I'm Writing This

...and it's not even Stressember yet. Christmas creep, don't you know.

Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas--it's war!

For years I sided with the people who insist on Merry Christmas over vague niceties like Happy Holidays or especially 'Season's Greetings'. December 25th, after all, is called Christmas, and you can pussyfoot around and make up all the festive salutations you want to avoid mentioning it, but it's still called Christmas. (The inner pedant must once again point out, as he does every year, that nobody knows when Jesus was born; it almost certainly wasn't even in the month of December at all; and it's astonishing how many Christians don't know that.)
I'm starting to get mighty annoyed, though, with the shrill, repeated insistence on Merry Christmas as the only acceptable form of greeting this time of year.  THERE IS MORE THAN ONE HOLIDAY IN DECEMBER, FOLKS. And no, I'm not talking about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, or the Winter Solstice. I'm talking about New Year's Day and -- if you live in Canada, at least -- Boxing Day. Three holidays, count 'em, one two three.  Ergo "Happy Holidays" is a perfectly valid thing to wish somebody. If you have a problem with Happy Holidays, drop the s and have a perfectly miserable New Year's Day, okay?

Besides, I can't be expected to look at you and determine you're a Christian. Happy Holidays is a nice, safe greeting that shouldn't offend anybody, of any faith or no faith.

Now, all that said, it's a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree. It's Christmas dinner and Christmas presents, It's not a holiday dreidel...why should it be a holiday tree? If somebody wishes you a Merry Christmas, and you aren't Christian and/or otherwise don't celebrate that particular holiday, the thing to do is to substitute "have a nice December 25th" in your head, smile, wish the wisher a Merry Christmas in return, and go your way in peace. Wishing somebody a Merry Christmas is not some kind of evangelical plot, okay?

Ken out.

26 November, 2012

Found On Road Dead

Poor Rob Ford.
The soon to be ex-mayor of Canada's largest city has discovered to his chagrin that laws apply to him.

Well, actually, he hasn't. He's framing his conviction on conflict of interest charges and consequent removal from office as an "orchestrated attempt by the Left" to get rid of him. A successful attempt, it turns out, and only because Ford himself provided all the necessary ammunition.

The facts of the case were never at issue. I mean, Ford's vote regarding his own football charity is on record. And he flat out admitted he'd never read the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act which he ran afoul of...the very Act that governs his job. I don't know about you, but if I'm ever elected to office, I'll be an expert on conflict of interest matters within a day or two, and avoid anything that even looks like a conflict.
Not Ford, though. He seems to relish conflict. He has an amazing ability to say and do exactly the wrong thing at any given moment, and to do it with a belligerent sneer on his face. He is a boor, a buffoon, a walking embarrassment to the city of Toronto, and all you need to know about Rob Ford can be summarized in his reaction to the ruling that just turfed him from office:

"This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here and they'll doing anything in their power to," he said.

Actually, Rob, I gotta say, you've done so much to help that left wing achieve their goal that I can't help wondering if you have some kind of death wish. You've been caught swearing at a 911 dispatcher (and you waxed positively Clintonian there, denying you swore but allowing as how you may have used "the f-word" to express your frustration); you've gone out of your way to snub your city's gayfolk (and who'd be surprised at that, given that he thought AIDS was a gay disease?) Not a day goes by when Ford doesn't say something that causes you to raise your eyebrows, or roll your eyes around in your head, or smash your head against your desk...

He ignores every attempt to get him to play by the rules. It really makes me wonder how he coaches football. Isn't that a scary thought?

I've Rob Ford, so help me. Even now there's part of me who wishes I could still like the guy: for all his bluster and bitterness, there's a nice guy in there somewhere. I liked that Ford was a kind of anti-politician, a guy who would brook no bullshit...there's a part of me that responds to that populism and always has. When Ford was a councillor, he never spent more than a minuscule fraction of his office budget--there were a couple of years, as I recall, when he spent exactly nothing. That I liked, that I respected. I thought he'd bring that kind of fiscal sanity to a city dearly in need of it. Instead he was the proverbial bull in a china shop. And now the bull's in the shit.

Serves him right.


22 November, 2012

What Doofus Designed The Human Body?

The ridiculosity starts at birth.
Genesis says it's the curse of Eve: "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children..." (Gen 3:16a)
This is one of those places  where, speaking metaphorically of course, the Bible nails it. That curse came about because Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If you're willing to look mythically rather than literally at that whole passage, it's almost as if the knowledge, or consciousness, brings about the curse. (The instant they eat that fruit they are suddenly self-conscious...)
Human beings have more labour pains than any animal I can think of. And why? Largely because our brain pans are grossly outsized relative to our bodies. While brain size alone is an almost meaningless measure of intelligence, brain size relative to body size is much more significant. I've no doubt that if you wander back into the mists of prehistory, you'll find homo erectus giving birth with about the same drama as you or I would have taking a dump. (Wait a second, there's two things wrong with that sentence: one, my dumps are pretty damn dramatic, and two...take a dump? Who does that? I leave mine, myself.)

In any event, since giving birth is pretty much a biological imperative, you would think that birth canals would be better suited to the task. I say this meaning no disrespect to mothers whatsoever; on the contrary, I stand in awe of the pain they willingly endure. But why should they have to?

Pain in general baffles me. Physical pain is stupid. I get that it's a critical alarm to let you know something is wrong. You wouldn't want Riley-Day syndrome, much as the inability to feel pain sounds attractive. Your lifespan is drastically reduced, for obvious reasons.

But that said, pain should have some kind of dimmer switch. There are still any number of pains that announce themselves, and announce themselves, and announce themselves, and there's not a goddamn thing in the world you can do about them. Ask anyone suffering from lupus or fibromyalgia. Or, for that matter, migraines. What purpose does a migraine serve? Is there any good reason why some subset of the population should have wild horses stampeding in their heads? I can't think of one.

Allergies and intolerances. Why? Again, what purpose? That goes for the common ones--the lactose intolerance, which seems to be everywhere now, and the peanut allergy, which nobody had ever heard of when I was a kid--and the really fun ones that often come in multiples. We once babysat a child who was violently allergic to milk and eggs and something else I can't remember. My wife has cold-induced urticaria, which used to be quite severe and is still something to keep at top of mind in the winter.I know someone else who appears for all the world to be allergic to her own skin; I know of someone else who is allergic to sunlight. Absolutely none of these make sense.

Food. I am far from the only person who laments that there is absolutely no food that is both (a) good for you and (b) actually something you'd want to eat. Sugar, that thing our bodies absolutely crave, is a poison. Not fair, damn it, NOT FAIR.

And all this is to say nothing of the basic structural faults. Who decided to put male genitals on the outside, at perfect kicking height? I'd like to register a complaint regarding the lack of anal musk sacs that should be present in all humans, especially me, to deodorize intestinal gases. I don't particularly care if I lose all my hair--one less thing to deal with in the morning--but a lot of men do care. And I do have to protest that if I do lose all my hair, it simply reappears in my nose, or on my back, or in the crack of my ass...is this really necessary?

You're not supposed to use Q-tips to clean your ears, something I've been doing my entire life. Begs the question of what the hell a Q-tip is actually for. Absent a Q-tip, there should be some simple way to clean your ears. I picture a cowlick: tug it and your ears forcibly eject wax with a sploosh and did I ever just gross my wife out.

Cavities. Couldn't we have designed teeth a little sturdier?

The list just goes on and on. The human body is not a compelling argument for intelligent design.


11 November, 2012

"Becoming European"

This is perhaps the most concise and cogent analysis of why Obama won. (Warning: the article itself is sane and measured--a rarity for the National Review, in my experience. Perhaps predictably, the COMMENTS are BEYOND LOONY.)

U.S. conservatives consider non-American opinion beneath contempt...beneath notice, even. It would not surprise Republicans in the least to learn that if the rest of the world had a vote, Mitt Romney would  barely have registered; in their minds, that's just proof of American exceptionalism. What boggles the Right's collective brain is that their red-blooded America do-or-die-ism is, for the first time in a century, under attack from within America by some mad European-bred socialist fever. And damn it all to hell, in the case of Obamacare, the cure is the disease.

There's a part of this article that really resonated with me, and confirmed, if any confirmation was necessary, my progressive bona fides:

Progressivism always looked at the family with skepticism and occasionally hostility. Reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman hoped state-backed liberation of children would destroy “the unchecked tyranny . . . of the private home.” Wilson believed the point of education was to make children as unlike their parents as possible. Hillary Clinton, who calls herself a modern progressive and not a liberal, once said we must move beyond the notion there is “any such thing as someone else’s child.”

 I should state for the record here that I have nothing against my family whatsoever. I love and respect my parents just as much as any Republican does theirs. Where I emphatically part ways with that Republican: while I love and respect my parents, I do not accept that parents should be the final authority when it comes to their children. I hold this to be self-evident, that all parents are not created equal. There are bigoted parents out there who see their offspring mostly as bigots-in-training; there are parents who neglect their kids, parents who abuse their kids, and many, many parents who, through no fault of their own are unable to truly nurture their children spiritually, emotionally or intellectually. Should we just accept the inevitably underdeveloped kids as the price of parental authority? I say hell, no.

That thing Hillary Clinton said, that we must move beyond the notion that there is "any such thing as somebody else's child"? I like that. I like that a lot. That's "it takes a village" writ large.

I have long misread American individualism. One of my core beliefs is that each person charts his or her own moral course. Like many of my core beliefs, this seems so obvious to me as to be beyond question; yet it's probably the thing that most outrageously offends right-wingers of my acquaintance. I'm told there is a right way and a wrong way to live, and it's a parental responsibility to "raise 'em right". Fair enough, I suppose, but I agree with Woodrow Wilson: your responsibility as a parent isn't to recreate yourself. It is, rather, to help your son or daughter to recreate themselves, every day, "in the grandest version of the greatest vision"they have of themselves, to use Neale Donald Walsch's memorable phrase.

 There are many tools available to do this. Family is a big one, of course, but it's far from the only one. Faith, or lack thereof, is another. Friends are a third; the wider culture is a fourth. Think of every positive influence you've had in your life. While many people will cite their parents, they won't always be at the top of the list; for some people they won't be on the list at all.

Yes, I mentioned faith--or lack thereof. I have, at various points in my life, identified as Christian, atheist, and many points in between. There's no simple way to identify me at this point. My belief system incorporates aspects of Buddhism, New Age thought, secular humanism, and Christianity by way of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, , John Shelby Spong, and Tom Harpur. What I am not, in any way shape or form, is exclusionist. I do believe that a faith can ground a person, can exert a positive influence...so long as it does not become a "blind" faith. The exact same thing can be said of a lack of faith...a "blind faithlessness" is every bit as frightening to behold as the most fundy of fundycostals.

Goldberg notes in his column that not only religious, but also married people tended to vote for Romney...but that marriage is in decline in America. I beg to differ: Maine and Maryland (fittingly) are only the most recent waves in a tide of expanded marriage. Moreover, gay or straight, marriage, like everything else in life, is a personal decision--in this case more personal than most--between you, your spouse, and possibly any deity or deities you hold dear. Republicans tend to hold (a certain kind of) marriage as an ideal, a building block of society. There are far too many divorces, to say nothing of awful, unhappy unions, to consider marriage a universal building block of anything at all. Once again, my marriage is fine, I love and respect my wife unto the ends of the earth, but not every man and woman can say the same. Should kids have available parents? Yes, they should, preferably more than one of them. Does a piece of paper and an exchanged vow make any two people ideal parents? Of course not. And is my family any less a family because we don't have kids? Be very careful how you answer that.

Europeanization is a fait accompli now that the man who wrought Obamacare has been re-elected. The Affordable Care Act has its flaws, and they are legion, but it was only intended as a first step towards universal, single-payer health care--the kind of system the rest of the civilized world takes for granted and the kind of system that utterly terrifies and enrages Republicans. Once Americans get used to looking to government to cover their health, they'll never let go, AND REPUBLICANS KNOW IT. So the boogeymen come out. "America will go bankrupt!" they shout.

Interesting, that. It's awful to contemplate a bankrupt United States of America...but it's perfectly acceptable if any number of Americans go bankrupt trying to pay onerous health care bills. Makes me wonder how many people without insurance voted Republican.

And, not to make too fine a point of it here, but it's going to take some mighty fine maneuvering for America not to go bankrupt now, Obamacare or no Obamacare. That said, it's only the profit margin that keeps American health care costs so ridiculously high. No country pays near as much per capita to insure all of its citizens as the U.S, does to insure some of theirs.

Yes, America will go bankrupt, and even worse, government will start looking to restrict freedoms in the name of reining in health care costs. Hell, New York's done it already: they've banned supersize pop. (Actually, as Catelli notes here, they've banned kegs of pop, which doesn't mean you can't buy fifteen glasses of pop and guzzle 'em).

I've noticed, and lamented, an uptick in this kind of thinking here in Canada lately. Only recently have I started to hear people musing about who does and who doesn't deserve health care. Oh, hell, I've been known to think this way myself. My thought process goes are you human? If yes, you deserve health care.

America, we up here to your north started down this path you're on over half a century ago. We're still here, and by many accounts, our economy's outperforming yours and our standard of living is higher. And as much as you bemoan Europe--as much as the world seems to tremble at every least debt-belch coming out of Europe lately--it seems like people have forgotten northern Europe. The Scandinavian countries seem to be getting on just fine. And they're a hell of a lot more socialist than you'll be any time soon...


05 November, 2012

Americans, get out there and VOTE FOR ROMNEY!

Scratch that, I was attempting to make a joke there and that's kind of an anti-joke.

Of course, after the 2004 fiasco, some of you Obama voters are probably afraid you're going to find yourselves unwittingly voting for Romney. The truth is you probably don't have much to worry about from the machines themselves this time around. (Romney's son does not own all the machines in Ohio, for one thing.) So don't fear the machines. Fear, instead, the voter suppression tactics used mostly in swing states and usually, but not always, by Republicans. 
Up here in Canada, we've had our own political scandal, which is still percolating and fostering outrage. The voting irregularities in the U.S. are considerably more brazen and widespread, but for some odd reason they don't seem to provoke the same level of antipathy. I ascribe that to a perversion of the American Dream which suggests that since winning is all-important, a little cheatery is only to be expected and tacitly encouraged. Canada, being a little more (gasp!) socialist, has less tolerance for cheating.

Every election in the United States is elevated into a pitched battle of universal importance. The opposition is out to destroy the American ideal and way of life, to bring on Armageddon, to annihilate the universe. Without engaging in wild hyperbole, this particular election actually is critically important to the future of the United States.  Of course, depending on who you ask, it is vitally important that you vote for Romney, and just as important that you don't.

Republicans will tell you that Obama is not only the first un-American president in the nation's history, but also the first anti-American president. Notwithstanding the  thoroughly debunked yet remarkably persistent "birther" theories, there is some truth to these allegations. Barack Obama is by no means a typical American. His father was very much against American colonialism and Obama was raised in a stew of American criticism, especially concerning the country's treatment of blacks.
This is most evident in Obama's foreign policy, which critics dismiss as hopelessly naive and destructive, and people outside America tend to hail as a welcome and refreshing change. Obama makes comparatively little effort to promote American hegemony, preferring diplomacy and what appears to be apathy where his predecessors might well have responded with outrage and bombs. There is thus the perception of a power vacuum opening up, centered in the Middle East (where else?) This, more than anything else, scares and angers conservatives. There should be no power vacuum in a world  with America in it, they say. No good can come of it.
I'm not so sure about that. It can be argued that American meddling in affairs of sovereign nations hasn't worked out so well. Regardless, a Republican presidency would most likely seek to restore American notions of might and power, starting (where else?) in the Middle East. Romney's on record as saying he wants no part of a war with Iran. Then again, as Warren Ellis notes, the Republican candidate is "only coherent when he's lying".

Domestically, don't buy the carefully crafted narrative of economic recovery. The U.S. is in for a world of hurt no matter who wins. Look out for the Fiscal Cliff, and if that one won't get you, the debt cliff most certainly will. (Don't look at this site if you have a weak heart or stomach.)

As disappointed as many on the Left must be with Obama's first term, it is worth remembering that the Republicans vowed to block any bill the Democrats advanced, "no matter the content". It's also worth recalling that Romney's company specialized in buying up going concerns and shuttering them, exporting well-paying American jobs to China. In that sense, I'd suggest Romney is every bit as anti-American as is Obama. ("There is no God but Money, and Dollar is His Profit".)

My endorsement of Obama is probably predictable. Were I American, I would consider voting for a moderate Republican, if someone was willing to send out a Huntsman to find such a thing. But there being no moderate Republicans in the race, and a flip-flopping, equivocating fence-sitter at the forefront, I feel the choice is obvious.

Americans, get out there and vote.




04 November, 2012

Taking Inventory

In the middle of a gruelling inventory at work. I've been through close to thirty of these and this has been by far the most taxing. Usually grocery inventories involve one or at most two overnight shifts. This time I'm in the middle of five, every one of which has been or will be packed. For reasons too arcane for me to explain or you to care about, I have one night off in the middle of this five night stretch--which is something that has never been done to me in the course of a few hundred lifetime graveyard shifts. It's not easy. I ended up having a long nap last night from 9 until about 3:30. Given the extra hour as the clocks went back, that was longer than I intended to sleep but probably still not as much sleep as I needed. I plan to have another long nap this afternoon, and I hope that'll get me through the night. I hope. All hail Red Bull.

This megadose of caffeine to wake up and sleeping pills to come down is not the way I want to live my life. But without the caffeine I'm a zombie and without the sleeping pills I run the risk of collapsing from exhaustion the way I did last March. (Even with the sleeping pills, last night marked the first time I'd managed more than five hours of consecutive slumber.) I'm just not a night person.

Last weekend saw two friends married. We all went to high school together. He had a crush on her--as did I and I suspect about thirty other guys--and she was amiable but that's it. Twenty years and about six lifetimes later for both of them, they reconnected on Facebook, starting dating, and lo and behold, a marriage I used to joke with him about is now a happy reality.

That same day we met some friends for the first time. I first knew the woman as 'flameskb' and we've been e-friends for, wow, almost seven years now. (For almost four of those years I didn't even know her name...how odd is that? Probably not as odd now as it would have been when I was much younger.) Anyway, we met for dinner at the Prince Albert's Diner, a joint featured on You Gotta Eat Here!, which is Canada's version of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The food was pretty good and I think we hit it off well. Her partner's a budding comedian and a good one.

Between the wedding and the dinner, my week has been suitably brightened.

Friends really do make for a life worth living. That's not a new sentiment, even to me, but it hits home every now and again with a joyous clunk, that satisfying sound you hear when the car door closes firmly and all's right with the world. (Forgive the wandering metaphors: these night shifts have me somewhat scatterbrained.) I wish more of my friends lived closer, is all. Many of them haven't left the city we all grew up in. I'd move back there in a heartbeat, life permitting, except the crime rate seems to have exploded since I called London home.

Oh, well, Facebook may be a poor substitute for face-to-face, but it's at least a substitute.  There's no substitute for friendship.

Or sleep. Once again, this blog's epigram, something I'd put on my tombstone if I ever bother with one:

I have lived and I have loved;
I have waked and I have slept;
I have sung and I have danced;
I have laughed and I have wept;
I have won and wasted treasure;
I have had my fill of pleasure;
And all these things were weariness
And some of them were dreariness--
And all these things, but two things,
Were emptiness and pain:
And Love, it was the best of them,
And Sleep, worth all the rest of them,
Worth everything but Love to my spirit and my brain.
--Charles Mackay  (1814-1889)